Gary Showalter Makes New Team a Winner

Showalter game for making new team a winner DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (April 28, 1999) Gary Showalter's goal is to get No. 25 Supergard Motor Oil Dodge driver Randy Tolsma into Victory Lane. It's tough enough to win with one driver and a single...

Showalter game for making new team a winner

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (April 28, 1999) Gary Showalter's goal is to get No. 25 Supergard Motor Oil Dodge driver Randy Tolsma into Victory Lane. It's tough enough to win with one driver and a single team in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, let alone visit victory circle with three competitors -- each from a different racing organization. But that amazing record isn't enough for Amherst, Ohio, native Gary Showalter, who is counting on Randy Tolsma to extend that phenomenal streak to four as the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series drives headlong through its fifth season, heading toward round six -- the Memphis 200 on May 8 at Memphis Motorsports Park.

Showalter has guided his first three drivers -- Butch Miller, Kenny Irwin and Terry Cook -- to victory lane. Now the veteran crew chief is trying to work his magic with Tolsma behind the wheel of the Supergard Motor Oil Dodge.

The challenge for the 44-year-old Showalter is somewhat tougher, since Impact Motorsports' No. 2 team is completely new -- crew chief, crew, truck, plus the driver. Yet Showalter and Tolsma came very close to adding to the streak in the season-opening Florida Dodge Dealers 400 at the Miami-Homestead Speedway.

Showalter watched his new driver break the track record in Bud Pole Qualifying with a lap of 149.813 mph, proceed to lead the most laps and appear headed to victory lane, but the record was put on hold by a mechanical problem.

"It was a new type of brake system, and none of us were accustomed to what it needed. It also was a brand new truck, and we didn't have a lot of test time with it," Showalter said. "It wasn't the failure of the piece, but a failure of the team to understand the piece. We were a straightaway ahead of everybody when the brake failed."

Coming so close to winning and missing was frustrating, but the performance did provide a boost to the new team as a confident Showalter added: "There's a good chance in the next two or three races we'll put the Supergard Dodge in victory lane.

The performance in the opening race of the 1999 season was all the more remarkable since Impact Motorsports didn't start functioning until Jan. 1, or 11 weeks before that Miami race. Showalter was hired in November; he put the crew together in December and began building trucks after the first of the year. The team appears to have avoided some of the growing pains a lot of new operations suffer.

"We've been able to hire a lot of good employees, and it has come together pretty quickly," Showalter said. "We ran good at Miami, ran pretty good at Phoenix. We just need to tidy up some things we haven't done right, but I'm pleased with what has happened over the winter."

Before joining Impact, Showalter worked with Ford and Chevrolet pickups, and says turning the Dodge into a racing machine may have been his toughest challenge. In addition, time was not on his side.

"The Ford and Chevrolet were pretty comparable, pretty close to being the same," Showalter said. "The Dodge has struggled a little in the past, was a little bigger challenge, but by mid-season, you'll see the Dodges winning races."

Jimmy Hensley proved Showalter's crystal ball to be a bit clouded, putting Richard Petty's Dodge Ram pickup in the winner's circle at Martinsville Speedway earlier this month in the 1999 season's fifth of 25 scheduled races.

"The problems with the Dodges have been aerodynamics. The body is a little more bulky, wider, so we needed to spend more time building the bodies and going into the wind tunnel to find out what worked and what didn't," noted Showalter. "The new body styles for the Fords and Chevrolets were built a little bit slimmer and sleek, more aerodynamic for the street. It played right into helping them for a race vehicle. Dodge is more of a work truck."

There also were some problems in securing parts, motors and chassis because of the late start. Showalter now feels the team is in good shape with six trucks ready to race only a month into the season, remarking: "We're almost up to speed."

Martinsville was proof of that, as Tolsma finished a solid seventh for the team's first top-10 of the campaign. Over on the other side of the Impact Motorsports shop, things are going even better.

Team driver Stacy Compton, on the strength of five top-five finishes (including a second-place to Hensley at Martinsville) is the somewhat surprising leader of the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series point standings.

The positives for Showalter begin with the performance at Miami and continue with its maturity.

"If you can compete right off the bat, it's been a successful winter," Showalter said. "These guys have done a great job, and it has been all teamwork."

The shortcomings have been the inexperience of working as a team. An area Showalter has been addressing is the pit stops. He mentioned pit stops being a problem at Miami. And working on pit road cost them a possible victory at Evergreen Speedway near Seattle.

The over-the-wall crew got a shake-up after the Washington stop, resulting in invigorated performances -- particularly at Martinsville.

"We've got a bunch of young guys that have never had competition pit stops. They've all got some jitters," Showalter said. "Each week we have improved. The first few races we'd come in, in the top-five, and go out 15th. At Bakersfield, we'd come in 10th and went out 10th. We're starting to break even."

Breaking even means improved communication among the crew chief, the pit crew and driver. This was part of the pit-stop problem at Miami and Evergreen. Tolsma has been able to take some of the pressure in that area off Showalter, who compared him to Miller.

"Butch would come in and say this is what I need, this is what I like and this is what I don't like," Showalter said. "Kenny Irwin was young, had a lot of inexperience, and we needed to tell him what he needed. Same with Terry Cook. Tolsma is a lot like Miller, a good communicator. He also is a very good team spirit guy and brings a lot of knowledge. He also comes to the shop and pitches in, putting in seats, doing fabricating. The guys at the shop like to see that."

The final piece to keep the Supergard Dodge running with the lead pack each week is one more person, an assistant crew chief type. Showalter says he would count on that person to remove some of the pressure by assisting in the acceleration of this team's education.

"I have to spend a lot of time teaching in the shop, trying to get the guys to do things that need to be done," Showalter said. "I can't spend enough time doing some of the detail work that needs to be done. We're headed the right way, and if we can find the guy to fill that position, we'll be a pretty tough team to beat."

Showalter, along with Dennis Connor and Roland Wlodyka, are the only crew chiefs around since the birth of the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. The rapid growth and even quicker acceleration of competition during the tour's first 100 races have amazed him.

"We were looking for an extra 10 horsepower back in '95. Now we're looking for a half a horsepower and a 10th (of a second) to put the team on the pole," Showalter said. "In the next 100 races, you'll probably see a lot more teams, such as NASCAR Winston Cup Series teams, getting involved with the truck series. It's growing so fast; that you'll see even more great sponsors.

"The racing is getting better and better because NASCAR sat down with each manufacturer to make this thing more competitive. You'll see side-by-side racing getting better. This is a good growing place for young drivers. If you can drive one of these trucks, you should be able to drive a NASCAR Winston Cup Series car."

While the series will continue its growth and remain a training ground for future NASCAR Winston Cup Series drivers, Showalter doesn't expect the emphasis to shift to high-speed venues like Daytona International Speedway or the Talladega Superspeedway. They'll stay in what he calls "the short bull rings" with occasional visits to a California Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway or Michigan Speedway. This will enable teams to keep costs down and still stay competitive. Keeping costs down, however, won't prevent the popularity from going up. Showalter thinks the trucks generate as much excitement as does the NASCAR Winston Cup Series and cars of the NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division.

"Right now ESPN and NASCAR are really promoting the series," Showalter said, "and I've heard statements from Benny Parsons saying some of the best racing he's seen in the last couple of years has come out of the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series."

Some of the best racing for Showalter will be when Tolsma adds to that winning streak.

Source: NASCAR Online

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About this article
Series NASCAR Truck
Drivers Stacy Compton , Terry Cook , Richard Petty , Randy Tolsma , Jimmy Hensley , Benny Parsons , Butch Miller